This reads eerily like the world depicted by the classic film, "Brazil," by Terry Gillian -- a world run by impersonal machines and processes beyond the control of most human beings. The plot starts with a fly getting jammed in a printer, creating a typographical error, which results in the incarceration and accidental death during interrogation of an innocent man; and that's just the beginning. People in this world are powerless, unable to take the reigns, unable to help other human beings. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_(1985_film)
Let's hope humanity finds a way to build a different kind of future.
As an anecdote, just this past week, at our local Target, my wife dealt with a similar situation around getting an exceedingly minor situation resolved. As part of a larger online order, we needed to get some lotion for our (< 1 years old) twins. We received the right brand and type of lotion but not the child version of the product that we ordered. My wife realized the error at the car, before driving home, thankfully, and so she went back inside to get it resolved. "I can't do that. The system requires 24 hours to pass from such and such arbitrary moment in your transaction." or whatever. My wife had to stand her ground, arguing with the employee about the issue, about how she needs it _today_, because one of our girls has eczema, it's being exacerbated by the dry winter weather, and we ran out of the same lotion this morning. That she doesn't have time to run through the store to find it, wait in line to buy it, and then for one of us to have to come back tomorrow still to process a return for an incorrect item through no fault of our own.
She did get it resolved, but it took corralling a small set of managers and then the store manager to do an override of some sort. Over 20 minutes of my wife's time on a work day, after work hours, and when we have these very young twins at home. We were trying to save time and instead it cost us. Because of "the system.", etc...
I had a very similar experience this past week:
I wanted a new dryer for the apartment. The goal was to have the installation process be as hands-off as possible, so I googled, ordered online from Home Depot, and signed up for their "free installation" service. Click click click done.
Every part of the process stunk. The delivery company rescheduled (they didn't care - no connection to Home Depot itself), the guys who showed up came up with some excuse as to why they couldn't actually do the installation, and not only did they not care when I told them to cancel the delivery, they seemed happy that they didn't have to do the work ("no problem! we're outta here!").
Home Depot customer service didn't care when I asked for a refund. Nobody cared they lost a sale over something trivial and solvable. Nobody wanted to solve the issue (it would be more work to do that), nobody had a stake in the game, everyone got paid regardless. No humanity, just automatons dutifully processing the commands given to them.
In the end? Ordered from the local appliance shop that's been in business for 100+ years. Single phone call. They cared. Perfect process, no Internet (or, frankly, any tech other than an email confirmation) required.
Appliance delivery and installation companies absolutely depend on their connections to big box stores to stay alive.
I have a company - not a start-up, just a regular ol business- - that will do just under 7 figures of revenue in this, our very first year. 100% bootstrapped from savings.
In an industry which normally requires a high level of trust (think $4000+ upfront spend), we've signed up dozens of customers with ZERO reviews or prior reputation.
We treat other people like humans - we talk to them like they're adults, treat them like they're adults, and have created a very special product that meets their needs as human beings.
Everything is designed from the ground up to be HUMAN FIRST, systems, policies and software be damned.
As long as human beings are the ones spending the money, companies like mine will own the future.
it's like shopping for groceries at walmart vs the local grocery store. if I go to walmart, I can basically get the lowest prices on most items. but if I can't find something, it might take me five minutes to find a disinterested employee who may or may not know where to find the thing I want to buy. or I can go to the independent grocery store where someone will ask me if I need help if I so much as walk down the same aisle twice. of course, the exact same items will all be shifted up by a dollar or two.
in markets where customers are willing to pay more for good service, you typically see businesses at a bunch of different price points offering different levels of service. for the most part, movie theaters aren't this kind of market, except perhaps in very affluent areas. people already consider movie tickets to be expensive these days. as long as the experience goes right enough of the time, they're not gonna pay extra to see the same movie.
It's a bit far away of a drive, but saving 30 minutes of ads is kinda worth a few bucks.
Some companies are happy being small and personal. Maybe they won't become a billion dollar unicorn, but maybe they'll treat their customers better and be more in touch with the community instead.
Personal touch doesn't scale well. But that's why there will always be a niche for small and personal companies
In both cases the consumers win.
This isn't the future - this is how it's been for decade(s) and it's just you only notice it when it "goes wrong" (for whatever reason)
When your cinema ran film, there needed to be somebody who could "deal with film"... I believe there used to be a profession called "A Projectionist"
Pretty much from the moment films were digitally distributed, the multiplex became a giant automated jukebox - only staff there are to sell you food and to clean up the mess you left from your food.
First time I hit this (easily over a decade ago) was when somebody had left the polarizing filter on the projector lens and we were trying to watch a 2D film. Eventually we got somebody to "take the filter off" and we could actually see the film properly - but then restarting the film descended into a cluster-fuck of trying to convince the DRM system that they weren't trying to show a bootleg showing and how even if they did restart, it was going to through the centrally-planned multiplex schedule into chaos.
Back in that era, I saw so many movies that had completely broken projection and the staff had no idea what to do. Like now, it was so automated that all they knew was how to click the button to start the movie. Today's cinema systems are so much more reliable in comparison.
So maybe it's best to just acknowledge that there's a lost art here: film projection. The best looking 35mm film projection I ever saw in a regular theater was "The Man Who Wasn't There" at the Catlow. That theater had a projectionist who had worked there since WWII.
But, thanks to technology like digital projectors with autofocus, almost every movie I see today has better projection than that standout experience. It looks beautiful even weeks after release, since there's no physical film that gets scratched, starts to weave, etc.
 - https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2003-08-31-030831...
I'm sure this is true of a wider scope of things than just cinema projection.
>"This is the future, I’m afraid. A future that plans on everything going right so no one has to think about what happens when things go wrong. Because computers don’t make mistakes . . . A future where corporations are so obsessed with efficiency, that it doesn’t make sense to staff a theater with technical help because things only go wrong sometimes. A future with a friendlier past."
It doesn't make sense for a theater to have a high-paid techie on staff to handle the small percentage of the time some major technical glitch happens. Instead of the theater hiring technical staff, they can now put that money towards a better overall movie-going experience (those times when glitches don't happen anyways).
I guess I just don't agree with the author of the article that this is a bad thing.
To me this shows that the money is not going to a "better overall movie-going experience", but rather just that movie theaters are getting squeezed by the studios, rising video-on-demand, etc, and not all theaters are responding to it: they will milk whatever they can then from their properties until they simply won't be profitable/justifiable anymore and go bankrupt.
Perhaps owners of older theaters that just make good money with how they are now won't bother with upgrades as long as profits are good, but they'll be left behind when newer theaters or older theaters that spend money enhancing the customer experience start getting more audiences.
My impression was that the author wasn't saying it's a bad thing to have occasional technical issues. The author criticized how, when a technical issue inevitably came up, the theater staff didn't explain what's going on. After some time the staff restarted the movie, indicating they knew there was a problem, but didn't bother to tell the audience anything.
The author did also mention not having technical staff on site, but I think the primary problem was communication.
It really isn't. If the theater company loses enough business, it won't exist any more. And TBH there isn't much they can really do against streaming services delivered for cheap in amazing quality. We're less willing to pay the time cost of going out and dealing with a bad theater, traffic, disruptive people in the theater, etc.
But I think the author is more worried about a general lax approach to handling things when technology goes wrong. It's fine for a movie theater to have IT problems, but less so a hospital or government service. And personally I'm not at all sure some hospitals or governments are above movie theaters in technical prowess.
Except in cases where there is no fallback for when failures do happen, which was the case in the article. Then having knowledgeable staff makes a lot of sense.
> Instead of the theater hiring technical staff, they can now put that money towards a better overall movie-going experience
Is there any evidence of this happening? Customers' time was wasted and the theater lost money on that showing due to all the refunds that had to be issued.
You can't determine whether the cinema lost money on the film: You know that some people received refunds, which means the movie made less money than it could have, but you have no data on whether or not half the patrons kept watching and still paid. (And even then no data on whether or not that covers costs. Maybe they all bought huge buckets of popcorn, a higher margin product, that they didn't refund.)
We also don't have an estimate on how frequently this goes wrong, although we can guess that the frequency is low enough that the chain doesn't see the need to keep techs on -- and, in fact, the previous technical role of the projectionist been largely eliminated.
back of the envelope calculation. say you have a multiplex with five theaters, and each theater (200 seats, 50% full on average) cycles a movie every three hours. you're open from noon to midnight. a ticket costs $10 and a cinema tech costs $20/hr, so $240 a day just for one. your average seating brings 200 * 0.5 * $10 = $1000 of revenue from ticket sales (I'm assuming you don't refund popcorn). from a first-order analysis, it doesn't make sense to hire the on-premises tech unless the movie equipment malfunctions in at least one showing every four days (or once per 80 showings). to me, that sounds like a pretty high failure rate, but I don't actually know anything about cinema equipment. I'd guess that if your stuff malfunctioned that often, people would get pretty mad even if the tech intervened.
obviously I neglected a few things here. maybe that one theater will continue to malfunction throughout the rest of the day, forgoing more revenue. maybe even if the tech intervenes after five minutes, people ask for a refund anyway. maybe your reputation gets so bad that you have to start giving concessions vouchers along with the refund to get people to come back.
Apparently they're not saving enough money, because a movie with a listed 8:00 showtime won't actually start rolling until 8:20 with all the ads they cram in there at the start. Sure hasn't made my movie-going experience any better.
The people working there can't fix the issue so for next days/weeks this bugs can repeat. What kind of complex tech is there you can't train someone to fast forward a movie? It could be some DRM protected computer that plays the movie and you need special keys to do anything more then plug it out and back in.
They probably have a technician on call which can answer before the next day, but not instantly during an issue.
The most likely issue is a part that broke, you really expect movie theaters to stock parts for everything and always having someone able to replace them? Your ideal movie theater would bankrupt quite fast. Instead the chain may have a stock for many theaters (or a contract to get replacement quick) and a technician able to go from one to another quickly (or again, a contract for this).
> What kind of complex tech is there you can't train someone to fast forward a movie?
It's not clear from the article whether he did wait enough or just abandonned once they got the movie back on.
I frequently go see movies, so I have seen many technical issues and they always were able to fast foward. No technical issues are alike and them figuring it out is clearly always a struggle, so it's rarely quick to fix.
>I frequently go see movies, so I have seen many technical issues
That sucks that this happens frequently.
Never said it happens frequently, I see in average 50 movies a year and I have been doing this for the past 6 years. It's just the good old Murphy's law. There's so much software engineer here, it's weird that it's not a concept that we are aware of.
In my whole life I probably got 5 issues in a movie, they weren't able to fix it only once, and the manager told me there was a burnt smell in the projection room, so I guess it was the good old magic smoke that escaped.
Or you know....they don't.
Not really sure what the right answer is here but I don't feel it's my right to tell google to spend $X billion a year in service.
Maybe a competitor comes up with service, and google gets beat.
The theater in question simply employed no one who had the capability to fix the problem (or at least, no one who was on site at that time).
Google employs many thousands of people, plenty of whom have the capability to fix problems that come up with accounts—they just choose to make them completely unavailable to users who have problems with their accounts.
Sounds like a good plot line for a movie...
The staff had no one who had any knowledge about the technology, the cashiers had no power (=they were not trusted to not abuse) to issue refunds, and no one including the manager had any idea of telling the people what's going on.
It's similar to public transport issues: passengers are way more likely to not be frustrated when you tell them "so, someone threw themselves in front of a train, we're sorry but there won't be any service for hours, please take these cab vouchers", compared to leaving them in the station with "train delayed by 10min", followed by "delayed by 20min", "delayed by 60min" and so on. If I know there won't be a train for 2 hours, I can hail a cab and get out of the mess vs losing time in waiting for a train that's not gonna come and be frustrated as hell.
And if you're not going the automation route, make personal service a differentiator. In the UK we have the Everyman Cinemas doing this for example, offering sofas with tables, a table service for food and drink, knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff, etc.
Well, I suppose the first question is whether or not your automated monitor contains a Mysterious Hum Detector, and whether or not the case of a Mysterious Hum happens frequently enough to be worth rolling out the Mysterious Hum Detector to every screen in every one of your cinemas.
Also: The Audio Has Accidentally Been Set To French detector, and the Dammit Something Has Fallen In Front Of The Projector detector are equally hard to implement.
Automating uncommon real-world events is significantly harder than you might think.
But I agree with you that it would be relatively pointless - any resolution to a problem like that probably needs physical intervention to resolve.
And anyways that theater was full of mysterious Hum detectors. The article was written by one!
Probably take about 9 months to build an MVP, but about 16 years worth of training data until it's able to handle most cases.
Alamo Drafthouse has always seemed humanity-first to me from movie programming, to community-based events, to viewing experience. Their patrons seem to appreciate it.
Ads at other theaters have gotten so bad that I'm willing to drive out my way to go to Alamo instead. The last movie I saw at AMC didn't actually start until 30 minutes after its scheduled time because of ads. (Less than half of that was for trailers.)
I’ve even seen them stop and rewind a movie because they had to remove a guest.
1. Texted PIN to get into garage didn't work. After 5 minutes just tailed someone else through the door.
2. Locker rejected non-Euro drivers license. Call to contact centre overcame it.
3. "Prefilled" customer details were all wrong and didn't match confirmation email. So 10 minutes to retype them.
4. Exit boom gate wouldn't open. Garage said to call hire company. Hire company said they cannot open it. 3-way call resulted in garage employee begrudgingly pressing a button to remotely open it.
Not to single out Hertz, last week we returned an Avis car to the reservation specified location at the correct time (10 pm), but a sign there stated the key drop was "permanently closed" and to deliver it 5 km away. We had an overnight train to catch so were forced to urgently do so and incur the return taxi fare.
I'm unsure how far society can keep shoving incompetent automation down peoples' throats. I understand that people generally want to save money, but I think many want high-impact experiences (like 3 kids + 2 adults + transport mode changes) to go smoothly enough they will happily a little pay more to derisk it.
He had a saying I never liked about low wage workers who didn't understand what they were doing or have any power outside of their task:
"A system designed by geniuses, to be run by idiots"
... Might be a little harsh, but I think he was on to something. The workers in this article had no power to correct anything, they had no responsibly or opportunity to learn, the turnover is probably very high and coincides with semester starts/ends. They're allowed to be worthless when something goes wrong, maybe the author is right and some are even encouraged to be.
How many people have seen code that is written for "things only go wrong sometimes"? Yep, but when they do!
"Design a [programming] language that even idiots can use it and only idiots will use it".
Apple, Google, Facebook - yes, don't expect help if you do business with them and don't have a million Twitter followers to make a stink...
Overall, it’s a net positive, I think. But I feel bad for the humans in these non-jobs. Once roombas can clean movie theaters and show people how to set up Word on their phone, then it’s game over.
The cinema in my town in Ede, the Netherlands is fantastic.
Hmm, who would have thought it that 2 businesses could operate... differently?
This has nothing to do with computers or the future...
This puts an interesting angle on the "right to repair" issue. No-one has a clue how to actually repair stuff - just replace it, and dump the broken crap into landfill.
* The “manager”, mostly not giving a shit.
* Employees, under no meaningful oversight, goof-off.
* Problem occurs, nobody notices. Customers can’t find staff...
It’s all downhill, from the top-down.
This story would be much different at a small family-owned business (or as some call "lifestyle business"); chances are the problem wouldn't happen to begin with, but if it did the manager would care much more because their wallet's contents are directly proportional to customer satisfaction.
But the same thing almost certainly applies to everyone at the remote "headquarters": why should they care either? They have no incentive to care: they're paid to show up and be there for their shift.
It's just a stage of the process that's been ongoing for decades. Companies treat staff as resources, and finally (at least 40 years later), staff at all levels are behaving the way they're treated.
I'm sure people have occasionally had bad experiences at the movies for as long as there have been movies.
how much extra money per ticket would you pay for those sorries in exceptional circumstances? when i was growing up, i went to a 'mom and pop' theater. people knew each other, you got to know the owner and talk to him about what he was booking.
he was priced out. most people prefer saving a few bucks per ticket, and will give up sorries to get it. that's capitalism for you, giving people what they actually want, not what they ask for it think they want. capitalism follows the money.
When I read this title I was sure the author had gone to see Idiocracy.
Many organizations have one of two perspectives on customer service:
A) It's an opportunity to ensure customer happiness and repeat customers.
B) It's a cost to be externalized to the customer as much as possible.
The organizations in group A are often like the local appliance shop nih mentions in another comment: small, with an interest in repeat business, and relying on word-of-mouth as the primary customer acquisition channel. They may be in a competitive marketplace nominally (i.e., there are big chains around) and so they know they can't compete on price, so they compete on convenience, attitude, help-when-things-go-wrong, advice, etc. Customers are often not so price-sensitive that they'll always go with the cheapest option. This used to be many businesses, but technology grants advantages to those in group B --
The organizations in group B compete on price, or exist in a local environment in which they don't really to compete for customers. Movie theaters, insurance companies, FAANGs, etc. -- they know that most customers are not really there by choice (at least anymore, perhaps they used to be) -- they're there because that's where their friends (F), the best stuff (A, A), their favorite movies (N), or the quickest results (G) are. They're there because their employer has a contract (insurance companies), they're there because it's the only theater in town, they're there because it's the strictly cheapest flight from SFO to YYZ.
For group B organizations, a dollar spent on customer service is a dollar lost; when things go wrong, it's up to the customer to resolve it, and the customer incurs basically the entire cost of this "fixing" it, even if the organization nominally issues a refund. The OP here was not reimbursed for any of the costs incurred by the theater's screw-up. When insurers deny claims spuriously and force their customers to do the leg work to show they're in the right, and the insurer doesn't reimburse the customer for the cost of time, energy, missed work, etc -- and would almost certainly laugh at an invoice for work the insurer should have done, but didn't.
After all, what's the customer going to do about it? They probably can't or don't want to switch to another vendor. If there even is an industry regulator, it's almost certainly not going to be worth it for an individual customer to even file a grievance.
> no one has to think about what happens when things go wrong
I think it's less that "no one has to think about what happens" when things go wrong, it's that the cost of things going wrong has simply been passed along to the customer.
One way to think about the extra cost of customer service for a company is as a mandated "insurance" plan for the customer when something goes wrong. The cost is spread across all customers, but the benefit only accrues to those who have something go wrong, or who want smiles -- except of course it also accrues to the customers who value the knowledge that if something goes wrong, there's an insurance policy for it.
Few people pay for insurance when they don't have to, so perhaps it's no surprise we see a trend towards group B.
This is the sort of rant I expect from my grandpa, not the blog of a tech company.
Everything that happened at that movie theatre and almost everything around you in life is due to population scale.
Take Berlin for example, a city of ~4 million people, and you can still find on every neighborhood smaller businesses, shops, bars and cafés where the owner actually knows most of the patrons for years, etc. You can find the big-box movie theater, but these are the absolute exceptions.
In a way, in the resulting story from OP the consumers are to blame just as much as the managers/business people: people want maximum convenience, minimum price and minimum person-to-person interaction? It should be no surprise that this is what they are getting.
Now imagine what thoughts go through the heads of second and third generation rich kids.
Now imagine that politicians are mostly those rich kids.
That's the present, and the future. Jason, you're part of the problem you're complaining about and you don't even know it. So it goes.
I'm sorry, I don't understand. Do you think you can clarify this a little bit for me?